The climate emergency, the need to adapt to the digital transformation accelerated by the pandemic, and the commitment to the new global social contract established by the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for 2030 are placing sustainability at the forefront of business strategy. This was highlighted by the experts gathered at the session “Sustainability as a strategy for long-term value creation”, organised by Diálogos en La Vanguardia in collaboration with EY.
The roundtable, held last week at the Círculo Ecuestre de Barcelona, was “a demonstration of the commitment to sustainability across the business spectrum, whether they are listed companies, century-old family businesses or start-ups”, according to Joan Tubau, partner in charge of auditing at EY and co-organiser of the event together with Antonio Capella, partner in charge of sustainability at the same professional firm.
Large and small
Participants agreed on the commitment to sustainability across the business spectrum.
They were joined by Cellnex CFO José Manuel Aisa, Sorigué CFO Jordi Gil, Girbau President and CEO Mercè Girbau, La Farga CEO Inka Guixà, and Enerside Energy founder and CEO Joatham-John Grange Sabaté.
Antonio Capella points out that sustainability trends “play an increasingly important role in governance bodies due to the growing demand from stakeholders, the commitment to the 2030 Agenda and the digitisation of non-financial information”.
EY recommends that companies “define a strategy, analyse their financial impact and resilience, streamline production processes and be transparent, because investors, shareholders and markets are convinced that sustainability will have a positive impact and they want to be informed about it,” says Joan Tubau.
Investor demand is important,” agrees Cellnex CFO José Manuel Aisa. Shareholders “want to know in detail each specific plan, for example, on the carbon footprint or the installation of solar panels on the towers”. Explains the CFO of this telecommunications infrastructure operator, founded six years ago and listed on the Spanish stock market and included in the Ibex 35 and EuroStoxx 100 indices.
Sustainability objectives are already central to the strategy and provide competitive advantages.
José Manuel Aisa sees sustainability as “a real change in decision-making”. “We are obliged to support it and we take it very seriously,” he insists, pointing to the company’s presence in leading sustainability indices such as the Carbon Disclosure Project, Sustainalytics, FTSE4Good, MSCI and Standard Ethics.
Sustainability creates many business opportunities, as Joatham-John Grange Sabaté, founder and CEO of Enerside Energy, which focuses on “renewable energy generation”, says. He believes he has an “advantage”, as his company “was born in a green field” and is part of a sector that “will lead the change”, allowing him to grow his customer base while becoming a “pole of attraction for talent”.
Investors, shareholders and markets are convinced that sustainability will have a positive impact.
However, he stresses that while environmental performance is the company’s “pure DNA”, it must also strive to meet its social responsibility and governance objectives. “As we are in solar energy, the environmental part is a given for us, but since 2013 we have focused on corporate governance, a less obvious part where we have made significant progress.”
He also stresses that “social aspects are particularly important when introducing new forms of renewable energy generation, which have a major impact on local communities at all levels”. “We all have a lot of work to do,” Grange Sabaté acknowledges.
Companies with decades of experience attending the meeting also placed sustainability at the heart of their strategy, pointing to the competitive advantages it brings. “If you act ethically, you get a return. It helps you find talent and investment“, stresses Sorigué’s Director of Governance and Finance.
However, Jordi Gil points out that this privileged position “is not achieved overnight”. Even those who have it “in their genes”, as is the case of this municipal services and construction company with more than 65 years of history and a team of more than 4,500 people dedicated to the circular economy and renewable energies, do not have to “advance even further” in sustainability.
According to Girbau’s president and CEO, “explaining the purpose of creating a positive impact on people and the planet” is the first step to move forward. According to Mercè Girbau, “sustainability is closely linked to innovation“. In her case, she focuses mainly on “the use of industrial washing equipment by customers”, “co-innovating with customers or in joint projects with the textile sector to give garments a second life”, the entrepreneur reveals.
Glasgow has to provide the necessary regulatory framework to finance companies.
La Farga’s general manager, Inka Guixà, points out that in her family business, with 213 years of history, the concept is “very internal”. She defines her company as “a metallurgical industry that works with copper, which is a 100% recyclable material”. The “turning point” that made him “break the mould” and offer this material on the market was the “bankruptcy” of his company in the 1980s, from which he managed to emerge “based on sustainability and innovation”.
La Farga now wants to “go a step further” and “convince industry” of the advantages of this material, reveals Inka Guixà. “Everyone thinks about decarbonisation, but it is very difficult to change materials,” she laments. According to this directive, it is difficult to express the idea that “sustainable activities do not always have an economic return”. “We have to be willing to lose, because this challenge requires a brutal effort,” she warns.
The round table debate was, in the words of Joan Tubau, “a demonstration of commitment to sustainability across the whole spectrum of companies, from listed companies to century-old family businesses and emerging ones”.
The pandemic became a “mirror” that showed the company “getting lost in the search for the cheapest on the other side of the world”, regrets the general manager of La Farga. Guixà believes that now “things will start to change” and that “European funds can be a brutal opportunity if a real impact is sought”, she stresses, while at the same time she is in favour of “forcing change through legislation”.
The decisions taken at the Glasgow summit “will create a regulatory framework”, predicts Joan Tubau, EY partner in charge of auditing. The expert awaits these obligations with optimism because “the financial world demands clear and stable rules in order to have a secure environment in the long term and to be able to make forecasts”.
Spanish companies are increasingly aware of ESG criteria and comply with them.
“Fewer and fewer companies are neglecting sustainability, because the financial world, which wants to minimise risks and seek opportunities, is increasingly demanding in ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) issues. It is becoming a great catalyst,” says Antonio Capella, partner in charge of sustainability, to which Aisa adds that it is also necessary to unify “accounting criteria that make us all speak the same language in sustainability”.
The financial sector “has moved because people wanted it to. If people ask for it, everything goes against the tide”, stresses Mercè Girbau. “The recipe for achieving sustainability involves “technology, innovation and a real social focus to be more profitable, attract more talent and be competitive”. We are facing the greatest challenge humanity has faced since its creation,” concludes Joan Tubau.